Try-It Tuesday: Peter Molyneux’s The Trail

the-trail

I hold a mixed opinion of Peter Molyneux when I think of him, which is rarely. After getting excited for, and being let down by, Black & White, I generally avoided his games and his grandiose promises-slash-lies. I appreciate the vision and ambition, but I saw people getting burned too often on the lack of carry-through. And that whole Godus episode last year gave me a severe case of the stay-aways.

Yet the man is still making games, and one of them happened to make its way on my iPad this past week. It’s called The Trail, a walking simulator-meets-Minecraft that kind of came out of nowhere. It was a free download (that’s how they get you, kids!) and so I thought, why not? A few hours later, and I found myself really relaxing into the groove of this game.

At the start of The Trail, your character steps off a boat into the “New World” to make his or her fame and fortune. The initial destination is a town about 15 miles or so away, and so the trek begins down a winding, linear trail. While you control your character’s walking speed, you can’t turn back or head off the trail — it’s forward or stop altogether. Every so often you come across a campfire, where your character replenishes his stamina and you can engage in various activities.

So once you get through the tutorial, the flow of the game is this:

  • Walking: You make sure you don’t go too fast so that you run out of energy while collecting materials, chopping down trees, killing rabbits, and admiring the environment as it scrolls by.
  • Camp: You craft goods, trade with others, accept/complete quests, replenish stamina, and try to ignore the cash shop balloon that wanders by.

The sense of journey and progression is real and compelling, like you’re on a very slow road trip through the wilderness and different types of biomes. The cel-shaded look is pretty and the time spent between camps isn’t too long or too short. There’s a good pace of this game as you flip back and forth between stages, plus you can always go back to previous camps if you want to re-walk portions of the trail for money and supplies.

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re just in it for a mellow, relaxing experience. But it’s not a perfect game — and that’s before the free-to-play penalties start coming in later on (or so I heard). Probably the biggest issue I have with it is the game’s UI and controls.

Everything is “swipe this” and “swipe that” instead of button pressing, and the game doesn’t always recognize my swipes or allow me to move particular objects easily. Chopping down trees is onerous if the game doesn’t acknowledge a slice, but what’s far worse is your backpack.

Your backpack — your main source of storage — is just a bag in which physics-affected objects are dumped in. Nothing is organized; it’s just a jumble of stuff that starts spilling out all over the place very easily. It’s bad enough trying to grab everything you want to while you’re working, but this pack is a nightmare when you’re crafting or trying to unload certain items for the time-limited trading mini-game. Again, the game doesn’t always recognize your taps and swipes, forcing you to do them a couple times per object every so often.

I would rather a grid, with objects snapping cleanly and neatly into place. I’m also not a fan of the durability system, in which your clothes, tools, and pack gradually wear down. You have to be forever making new stuff on the fly, a process that’s exacerbated by the limited and wonky storage space.

That’s a lot of complaints and I think they need to be said. Still, I’m not deleting it yet, and The Trail was a source of family enjoyment as we crowded around the tablet, pointed out the scenery, and engaged in the journey together. I’m curious where my character is going and how it might feel if he got some more durable gear going. We’ll see, but that’s what I was playing for my Try-It Tuesday experiment!

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